When it was announced last month that Michael Vick was to be awarded the Ed Block Award for courage, I expressed my utter disbelief and despair. I encouraged readers to post their reactions as well, and I promised to send all to the Ed Block Foundation.
As of yet, I have not received word from anyone at the Foundation. However, I did come across this page on the Ed Block website, meant to serve as a response to the public outcry around Vick’s nomination:
I couldn’t have been more disappointed as I read the Foundation’s defense of Vick’s receipt of the award:
“…Michael Vick has been working with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Humane Society of the United States to promote awareness of the evils and dangers associated with dog fighting. As someone who paid a large debt for his role in this lifestyle he is uniquely equipped to educate at risk youths as to their perils…”
Granted, serving prison time does equip Vick to speak first-hand about life in prison. But it doesn’t necessarily make someone a good role model, sincere advocate, or a changed person. Serving time for the crimes he committed did not take courage–or even a sense of duty. Vick had no choice in the matter; his sentence was mandated by law.
In an attempt to validate its position on Vick’s award conferment, the Foundation goes on to offer quotes from other NFL luminaries.
Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid notes: “He’s obviously very well-respected by his teammates.”
Perhaps that says more about his teammates than it does about Vick. For someone who brings with him such an appalling history, earning the respect of your teammates ought to be the bare minimum. That respect is then the foundation from which to go forward, the first step in a long road. Not grounds for an award for courage.
Nor was Tony Dungy–Vick’s mentor and considered by many to be the NFL’s moral compass–disconcerted by the award: “… There are things that players know that each other are going through that maybe the public doesn’t know… So I know it’s one Michael is proud of, and there didn’t seem to be any debate on that team who should get it.”
When is someone affiliated with one of these organizations going to show real courage? When are they going to step up and say the right thing? That is, that Michael Vick has a long way to go. Simply attending practice, showing up for games, and not getting arrested is not sufficient cause for commendation. Millions of people across the country go to work and stay out of trouble on a daily basis. It’s not a matter of courage, but one of necessity.
Neither does a handful of PR-mandated, 10-minute speaking engagements–nor a large financial donation made as part of a plea bargain–show any particular depth of character. Courage is personally ensuring – without the promise of fame and fortune in the balance – that those around you live free of terror and harm.
HSUS says that “[Vick’s] story is the strongest possible example of why dog fighting is a dead end.” But assigning Vick hero status sends our youth quite the opposite message. Instead, let’s honor those who do the right thing from the beginning (LaDainian Tomlinson, Jarrod Cooper, Tony Gonzalez). Let’s teach our kids that avoiding violence from the beginning is what deserves real recognition. Attempting to redeem yourself after years of inflicting terrible torture does not take courage – it’s one’s only choice.
Ultimately, I hope that Vick does make good on his word to help more dogs than he’s harmed. My intent is not to stop him from him doing that – rather, it is simply to raise the bar. Our heroes must behave heroically in order to be deemed courageous. Showing up is not enough.